13th Oct 2019

Brussels clashes with Turks on free speech and Cyprus

  • Abdullah Gul said "There is no one better than us when it comes to harming ourselves" (Photo: European Commission)

Harsh words were fired from Brussels on Friday as the commission reacted strongly to a Turkish court's suspension of a conference on the Armenian massacre. Meanwhile Turkey has slammed an EU counter declaration on Cyprus.

The decision yesterday (22 September) by an Istanbul court to cancel a conference on the mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman empire in 1915, sparked a commission spokeswoman to speak of "yet another provocation".

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The term "provocation" was also used last week by enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn when criticising a separate Turkish court decision on the filing of charges against the author Orhan Pamuk - who had also raised the Armenian issue.

Both the Turkish prime minister and the Turkish foreign minister were quick to condemn Istanbul's court decision to cancel the conference.

"To prevent a meeting which has not yet happened and where it is not clear what is to be discussed has got nothing to do with democracy", prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul referred to the scheduled opening of accession talks by Ankara in just over a week (3 October), by saying "There is no one better than us when it comes to harming ourselves".

Until recently it was illegal in Turkey to publicly talk about the taboo topic of the massacre of the Armenians, which most international historians have classified as genocide.

The new penal code which Ankara had to adopt following pressure from Brussels ended this restriction on free speech.

But prosecutors in Turkey are still repressing debate on the Armenian massacre under the reformed penal code.

The commission signalled on Friday that the "provocations" by Turkish prosecutors will not interfere with Ankara's bid to start entry talks on 3 October.

But the commission will raise the issue in a "progress report" on Turkey, due in November.

Turkey blasts counter declaration

The atmosphere between Brussels and Ankara was already tense on Thursday, as the Turkish foreign ministry rebuked the EU for issuing a "counter statement" earlier this week in response to Ankara's refusal to recognise Cyprus.

The EU in its counter declaration stated that "recognition of all member states is a necessary component of the accession process" - meaning that Ankara should recognise Nicosia before Turkey can itself enter the bloc.

According to press reports, a Turkish foreign ministry spokesman said "we regret the counter-declaration that the EU issued on September 21".

"This declaration contains some unfair approaches and some new elements that do not conform to the traditional spirit of cooperation that has been continuing between Turkey and the EU for more than 40 years", he stated.

The spokesman added that the statement ignored the "rights and expectations of the Turkish Cypriot people" which he termed as a "serious injustice".

Turkey says the EU should end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots in the North of the island as quickly as possible.

A commission proposal to open trade with the North, linked to a financial aid package, is being blocked by the Cypriot government.

Direct trade with the north of the island would, in Nicosia's view, mean the de facto recognition of the North as a separate state.

EU split on Western Balkans accession

Europe's credibility is at risk in the Western Balkans, half its member states have warned - but EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said Albania and North Macedonia unlikely to start accession talks soon.

Tensions mount over Kosovo-Serbia deal

Serbia will never recognise Kosovo, Serbia's foreign minister has said, as the Western Balkans heads into a new period of turbulence.

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